Our dineLA pick of the year to try was the well-known, celebrity owned (Robert DeNiro is co-owner) and applauded, Nobu. Located in West Hollywood, it’s directly across from a Domino’s pizza and a 24 hour dry cleaning. Hm. Very LA indeed. We saw it but the street and even valet area was so packed there was no real way to stop without blocking traffic so we proceeded to pull a left. And then a right because it’s impossible to pull another left. And then a very smooth, fast U-turn (thanks to the polished asian driving skills of K, honed through his years of driving around UCLA and the SGV) landed us in front of a debonair white building with an understated NOBU scripted along the left side of the wall. Hello sushi.
Now for those that may not understand the way that dineLA works, a prix fixe menu (a set number of pre-arranged courses) is available at a number of participating restaurants, a lure to natives to venture out and try what restaurants tout as their classy equivalent of a Costco tasting stand (albeit for money). The nice part of course is the price. With three price tiers for the restaurants (fine dining, family dining, and more casual in my eyes), it gives a nice chance for simple commoners as myself and co. to have a taste of these uber expensive high-end culinary fixtures the media raves about. At a much more mid-level price.
Nobu was rated at the highest tier, $44 per a person. Not too bad considering the median price of an entrée is about $25 and up. Anyways, onto the food. My fellow foodies K, M and I chose the recommended Family Style prix fixe consisting of 5 courses, including a dessert. Not bad for $44. Checking the menu and seeing that the 4th course was a meat course (Black Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Truffle Teriyaki) I requested a change to the Black Cod instead, a dish I’d heard was pretty good. (Plus this is a sushi restaurant. I would much prefer to eat my beef elsewhere.) The waiter suggested the Seabass instead. No problems there.
Before the food came, water and alchy. Now I don’t see the point of ordering anything but tap usually but this night I was so entranced by menu-reading, I didn’t realize the server heard “Flat” instead of “Tap” and we wound up with a bottle of Fiji poured into our glasses before I noticed. Don’t get me wrong, I like Fiji water. Just not at $9 a pop. Ow. At least they didn’t automatically bring another bottle when we finished and I politely requested refills of “Tap” in a much clearer voice this time.
As for alchy, M and I decided to try two cocktails, an Acai cocktail and a Pina Martini. ($14 each) The Acai (which tasted almost with a hint of ...guava?) was served with a flower and the Pina with a slice of starfruit. Both drinks were relatively light and fresh with a nice clean presentation and flavor. For a trendy seen and be seen place, the price was steep but passable. I’m not a heavy drinker though and I can imagine for those that may down more than just one cocktail at dinner, be prepared to pay for your alchy, especially since the drink itself, though flavourful, didn’t seem very strong.
About now the first dish arrived. A long plate of 9 translucently thin Yellowtail Sashimi with a circlet of jalapeno on top, the lemony taste of the ponzu sauce was clean and flavourful, not too strong but with just enough of jalapeno tickle on your tongue when you ate the whole piece. However, it was hardly amazing, just good.
The second appetizer was the Salmon New Style Sashimi. Thicker than the yellowtail but not by much slices of salmon were again plated, this time with a sesame seeds and a light oil and yuzu sauce. The fish was warm, lightly seared on one side and raw on the other. Interesting concept but I’ve been taught to distrust the taste of warm sashimi so it was bit…disconcerting. Good fish quality but not my favorite dish for personal reasons.
At this point a bowl of rice arrived mysteriously at our table. One bowl. For the three of us. We inspected the rice with the confused yet good humour of a school teacher at a homework excuse. Why was there only one bowl? Why was there rice, period? Personally, I’d rather have received soup. Upon glancing around, there was only one other table with rice- a table where an asian couple was seated. K jokingly claimed that it was because we looked so asian, they assumed we needed to eat Chinese-style. I tasted the rice out of curiousity but it was exactly that. Boring, white rice and not particularly the best cooked.
The third that arrived was Peruvian Lantern Scallops Tempura with Yuzu Koshio and Roasted Garlic Aioli. M immediately said the aioli was a very nice complement and I agree. The scallops were not overly fried and the quantity was ample enough that we all got some and more. The slightest hint of spiciness only made it better.
Chilean Seabass with Japanese Miso was the star of the night and probably the saving grace of Nobu for us. Served with 5 good portioned slices on spinach and sliced mushrooms sprinkled with bold fried onions. I love well-cooked mushrooms and these were wonderful- tender and flavourful, yet with enough snap in them to break apart cleanly when you bit them. Delicious. The fish was good, very good and the miso glaze was an excellent fool-proof complement. M & K gobbled this up in no time.
Onto desserts! Because of the prix fixe, we had a nice trio to sample from.
Banana Caramel Soy Tabanyaki, cooked with roasted peanuts in a round clay pot. A small scoop of Malaga ice cream was scooped in when the dish was un-lidded. Presentation here was definitely nice although taste fell a little short with M and me. Too sweet and might I say, too banana-y? (Is that a word?) K on the otherhand, really liked the peanuts and finished this one off. The ice cream was quite good though.
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream was simple and yet very yummy. I like simple, not too sweet things and the warm melting chocolate that oozed out of its soft exterior paired with cold mellow green tea ice cream made me a happy eater. M made a face at some decorative crumblings on the side of the plate. Dark chocolate? Espresso? No idea, but she says they were very bitter and not complimentary in taste at all.
The last dessert was a simple Froyo with small black sesame garapinado clusters, tiny fresh strawberry pieces and a bit of blueberry coulis. The Froyo was just that, frozen yogurt, but to be honest, it tasted like perfectly good ice cream to me. (Possibly because every other dessert dish had ice cream too). K, the ice cream junkie had no complaints on this.
All in all, final total for 3 people, 2 cocktails, 1 bottle water, 3 appetizers, 1 entrée, and 3 desserts to share? $222 including tip. (plus valet parking which is $8 +tip)
Nobu is pretty but not extravagant to the point of ooing and ahhing, tasty but not to where you would rave about the exquisiteness of the dishes. Call my taste buds spoiled but I’d rather treat this as more of a trendy, hip lounge (and get a 30% off discount if you’re a Facebook fan) than come and throw down all that money for their regular menu prices. The food just wasn’t off the wall. Even the star dish, the Miso Seabass didn’t taste all that exceptionally different from the Miso Black Cod recipe by Iron Chef Morimoto- which you can cook at home for a fraction of the cost. (Although I had the occasion to eat their miso-marinated Black Cod with butter lettuce at PbB's Food and Wine Tasting and I thought it was really great.) Fantastic? No. Interesting and worth a try? If there’s a special menu such as dineLA, yes. Plus it’s a nice excuse to dress up in WeHo (West Hollywood's moniker, so M tells me). Otherwise, I’d rather take my money and go eat Spago’s delicious tasting menu again. Mmm…truffles.
903 N La Cienega Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
[Additionally, due to the super dim lighting, none of my food shots came out very nice. An iPhone only food blog is going to be harder than I thought. :/]